Cultural Identity Among Urban American Indian/Alaska Native Youth

Implications for Alcohol and Drug Use

Published in: Prevention Science, v. 17, no. 7, Oct. 2016, p. 852-861

Posted on RAND.org on September 22, 2016

by Ryan Andrew Brown, Daniel Dickerson, Elizabeth J. D'Amico

American Indian / Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth exhibit high rates of alcohol and other drug (AOD) use, which is often linked to the social and cultural upheaval experienced by AI/ANs during the colonization of North America. Urban AI/AN youth may face unique challenges, including increased acculturative stress due to lower concentrations of AI/AN populations in urban areas. Few existing studies have explored cultural identity among urban AI/AN youth and its association with AOD use. This study used systematic qualitative methods with AI/AN communities in two urban areas within California to shed light on how urban AI/AN youth construct cultural identity and how this relates to AOD use and risk behaviors. We conducted 10 focus groups with a total of 70 youth, parents, providers, and Community Advisory Board members and used team-based structured thematic analysis in the Dedoose software platform. We identified 12 themes: intergenerational stressors, cultural disconnection, AI/AN identity as protective, pan-tribal identity, mixed racial-ethnic identity, rural vs. urban environments, the importance of AI/AN institutions, stereotypes and harassment, cultural pride, developmental trajectories, risks of being AI/AN, and mainstream culture clash. Overall, youth voiced curiosity about their AI/AN roots and expressed interest in deepening their involvement in cultural activities. Adults described the myriad ways in which involvement in cultural activities provides therapeutic benefits for AI/AN youth. Interventions that provide urban AI/AN youth with an opportunity to engage in cultural activities and connect with positive and healthy constructs in AI/AN culture may provide added impact to existing interventions.

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